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Equestrian Legend: Valrie Mayger

This article is from the January 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

The equestrian discipline of showing is about the love of horses, an eye for a beautiful horse, good horsemanship and the ability to ride and train it well. Those capable individuals are not as numerous as perhaps they were and many are no longer actively showing, but some, like our legend this month, Val Mayger, continues to contribute to the sport she loves, by coaching, judging and administrating. Such is Val’s contribution to equestrian sport that she was a joint winner of the May Campbell Services to Sport Award at the 2018 RAC WA Sports Stars Awards.

A Saturday ride at Acme Riding School 1960.

A Saturday ride at Acme Riding School 1960.

Val was immersed in horse sports from a very young age, but only in her imagination. “I was mad on horses from when I was a small child,” says Val. “No one knows why because we had no family connection with horses. My mother was despairing, as I had a bamboo stick that I rode all over the district. Apparently my grandmother had a passion for horses that my mother never knew about. We lived in Bassendean, a suburb of Perth and we had no place for a horse.

“I went all through school wanting a horse. When I left school, I was a year ahead and couldn’t go directly into nursing, which is what I thought I wanted to do. My mother said I couldn’t sit around for a year, so she got me a job in a bank. I was on holiday from the bank and I think she got sick of me hanging around the house and said; oh why don’t you go and learn to ride! So I went to Acme Riding School, about an hour from home and I had to walk about a kilometre from the train to get there. I learnt to ride and the owner, Ian Jackson was very good to us all. I was one of the oldest at 17, and I could eventually ride well enough and had a bit of an idea how to keep people safe, so I used to earn rides on a Saturday afternoon by taking a class out on a bush ride.

“Eventually a horse came into the stables straight off the track. It belonged to Frank Boan who owned a big department store in Perth. He also hunted and kept his hunter at Acme. Frank gave the racehorse to the riding school and they said to me; you can ride it. It was a bit of a nut and I learned the hard way. Eventually, my father lent me forty pounds and I bought it. So that was sort of the start and from there I totally got the bug and worked at getting better and better horses all the time.

Whimsical, HOTY 1973

Whimsical, HOTY 1973

“A new pony club started up and we all rode from Acme to the Perth Horse and Pony Club. I used to jump the ex-racehorse a bit and we did games that I hated, because the mare was hopeless at them and we did the beginnings of dressage called, An Educated Horse. Frank Boan had another horse at the stable called Alpine who could jump. I used to hunt him and put him in the Hunter classes at the Royal Show and things like that. I never really liked jumping, but I did a bit of it and won a few things. I got keen on dressage, that and showing and that interest has remained with me. I am now the Vice Chair of the EWA Dressage Committee and the Chair of the EWA Showhorse Committee.

“I was at the Kelmscott Agricultural Show with my off the track racehorse and not doing brilliantly, but going OK. There was a man there with a chestnut with four white stockings and a flaxen mane and tail. I thought it was the best thing I had ever seen. I was talking to him and it somehow came up that I was at Acme Riding School and it turned out that the man knew Ian Jackson very well. Apparently I was talking to Charlie Readhead, a Perth Royal Show Councillor. He contacted Ian and said that if I wanted to lease this horse , I could, because his daughter who owned it was not really interested. That’s how I got my first really good horse, Fidelity.

“He taught me a lot. He was a typical Anglo Arab; you could ask him to do something, you could never tell him. He was quite successful as a hack and at that time dressage was just getting going in WA and you could go in anything from Preliminary to Medium, whether you could do the movements or not. He did well and was Reserve Champion Hack at the Royal and I showed him for many years. I then got a little grey Galloway called Whimsical that I literally found in a paddock. She was a smart little horse and did very well in dressage and showing. She ended up being Champion Galloway twice at the Royal and was also Supreme Champion at the Royal and won the first HOTY here in 1973. Whilst I had her, I got another Thoroughbred straight off the track, Saville Row. He was an interesting horse; you had to work him in the dark, because if you worked him in the daylight, he thought he was going to the track. He turned out really well; a really super lady’s hack and he won the HOTY over here. He was never Champion at the Royal, but he did very well in dressage and went up to Advanced. At that time, Thoroughbreds were still holding their own in dressage. I then got another off the track horse, Hutton Dene. He came to me because the connections thought he was just too good to send to the sales. His racing name was Therapist which I liked until someone called him The Rapist! So I thought I would change his name.

Saville Row, HOTY 1975

Saville Row, HOTY 1975

“Meanwhile, I went off becoming a nurse and decided to become a teacher and I taught for nearly 50 years. I did quite well at college and on graduation I was sent to Bentley High School that had quite a reputation at that time and it was not a good one. But it taught me how to control and teach – and survive. I taught English and music at various schools. I got a call one day and was offered the job as Principal at Kobeeya College a boarding school for girls from the country. I was Principal there for nine years until the school was closed and the building sold to the Baptist Church. I then applied for and got the job as Vice Principal at Penrhos College and was there for 12 years until I retired.

“Teaching has always been a big part of my life and it has worked in well with the horses.

One year at the Royal, I saw a horse that belonged to Michael D’Agostino and it was for sale. He had raced in the bush and had evented a bit. He was eleven years old, almost black with three white socks and if the hunters had been going then, he would have been hugely successful, as he just looked like a hunter. I bought him and that was Foxy Bob which was his racing name. He did very well in dressage and did very well as a hack, but was never Champion at the Royal. He won the Heavyweight Hack class at the Royal, but when it came to Champion, they would say; he wasn’t really a show horse. He was Runner Up three times at the EWA HOTY.

Fidelity, Perth Royal 1969. Photo: Sunday Times Newspaper.

Fidelity, Perth Royal 1969. Photo: Sunday Times Newspaper.

“Pauline van Heythuysen had bought a skinny, yellow coated horse at a clearing sale. When Pauline found out that he had raced as Jamaican Rum, she remembered seeing him on the track and thinking he was not a bad sort of horse. So she bought him in part to save him from some boys who were looking for a bush basher. When she got him home, she rang me and said that she did not know what Terry (her husband) would say about the new horse when he got home and asked me to come and have a look at him. He had his head over the stable door and had a beautiful big eye; he’s gorgeous, I said, he’s my sort of horse. Pauline did not want to ride him and at the time I was without a horse. Terry said, take him and put some work in to him and if you want him you can buy him and if you don’t we can sell him and split the money. Anyway, he carted me around the paddock for a few weeks. He had two gears, stop and go. It took him a while to understand it all and about 18 months to win his first Championship. That was Millionaire (Beau) and he did dressage as well and went to Advanced level. He was Runner Up four times at the EWA HOTY, but he won the Show Horse Council HOTY and qualified for the Grand Nationals.

Foxy Bob, Dressage Championships 1988. <br>
Photo: Athlete in Action.

Foxy Bob, Dressage Championships 1988.
Photo: Athlete in Action.

“When I won the Show Horse Council in 1995 everyone said I should take him over to NSW. The Principal at Penrhos did not understand my passion for horses, but I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss, although I didn’t think I could get the time off work. I went to the Principal and said I hoped it would not be a shock if I asked for my long service leave. You had to give a year’s notice and I was giving him two months. I told him the story and he said, I could have a few weeks off. I said I could not do that with this horse, I needed more time. If you can organise the staff to fill in etc, he said and I took three months off. I went over to the Grand Nationals and won under Jennie Lauriston-Clarke. It was just one size then, over 15hh and in 1996 there were a lot of very good horses there; Le Pigalle, New York, Seattle, Spellbound, Vienna After Dark and Gigolo to name a few well known horses. I went over with no great expectations, but Nadine Merewether who had spent some time with Jennie in the UK some years before thought she would like Beau. My day was made when we made Top Five and when New York was called forward as Runner Up, I was wondering who had won. He gave her a great ride and she said to me afterwards; he is such a gentleman, he waits to be asked. A few days later she gave a clinic and when I rode in she said; here’s my Champion Hack and proceeded to tell the audience why she gave it to him.

Millionaire, Perth Royal 1997. <br>
Photo: Hoofbeats.

Millionaire, Perth Royal 1997.
Photo: Hoofbeats.

“I took Beau over to NSW with a horse transporter and I slept up in the luton going across the Nullarbor. Somewhere in South Australia we were stopped by police who were doing drug checks. Keep the lights out I was told, as I think I was not supposed to be travelling up there. Oh, I thought, this is going to look good in the WA papers; Vice Principal of leading girls school in drug heist! Fortunately it did not come to that and on the way home I decided I would travel in the cab. It was a great trip and we had a lot of fun and I got a good reception back in Perth.

“I retired Millionaire when he was 17 and after him I had a lovely, but inconsistent horse called News Break. I fiddled around a bit after that, but never got back into it seriously. In 2002 I had a fall from a young horse and that put an end to it. I had what they called a significant head injury and was in rehab for three months. I was at the wrong end of my life to start falling off youngsters and the doctors told me not to ride again.

“I worked with RDA for about 18 years and I chaired the RDA Dressage Committee for years. I represent the Para Equestrians on the Dressage Committee here. I was on the National Show Horse Committee and I am a National EA and SHC judge and I enjoy judging. It is very subjective and people know that for me a horse has to work, it is not going to win just because it is pretty. Nor would I give the class to a plain horse just because it worked. I do a lot of announcing for dressage and show horse over here, so I keep in touch that way and at the 2019 Nationals at Werribee I was on the Jury of Appeal.”

Valrie, judge at ENSW Southern Cross Show Horse Spectacular 2018.

Valrie, judge at ENSW Southern Cross Show Horse Spectacular 2018.

Article: Anna Sharpley.


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